Years ago Variety editor Peter Bart shared with me a fascinating Oscar insight. In order to win Best Picture, he said, a movie must conjure up a person who academy members are rooting for. In other words, the film with the best face behind the title wins. Thus The Departed (2006) and The Hurt Locker (2009) won because voters wanted to give hugs to Marty Scorsese and Kathryn Bigelow. This year, according to that theory, Argo may be surging ahead because Hollywood is cheering on poor Oscar-snubbed Ben Affleck, who, after years in the industry’s trenches, has finally emerged as a major filmmaker.
But what about Lincoln? Who comes immediately to mind when voters think about the movie that leads this derby with the most nominations? Maybe Daniel Day-Lewis? Maybe Steven Spielberg? The correct answer should really be Spielberg – it’s his story and it’s not properly reverberating across Oscarland. Think about what the dramatic success of Lincoln means: It represents the spectacular career comeback of a man who reigns as king of Hollywood filmmakers.
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